Saturday, May 26, 2012

Windy Valley

Memorial Day weekend offered a chance to get out for a spring 3-day hiking extravaganza and I took the chance. The weather in weeks prior had been superb and the visions of hiking under sunny blue skies had been dancing in my head, causing my own little version of Restless Leg Syndrome.  
The drive to Windy Valley was "interesting"

Peak 3349
Idyllic Windy Valley was the chosen destination, to be followed by a day hike from the valley to the top of Snow Camp Mountain. I'd been to the valley several years ago and it remains one of the most beautiful places in the Siskiyous despite a visit from the catastrophic Biscuit Fire of 2002. But, I'd forgotten how remote the valley is and it seemingly took all day to get to the trailhead and the hike started late afternoon under threatening skies.

Fortunately, after a desultory rain shower, the cloud cover broke up as I sallied forth onto the trail. Windy Valley sits on the western edge of the fire-ravaged Kalmiopsis Wilderness and immediately this hike became all about the Biscuit. There weren't a lot of trees here, just a forest of ghostly white snags.

A tree, my kingdom for a tree!

Cedar Creek
The trail had that Kalmiopsis vibe as the rocks were comprised of serpentine and peridotite, all colored orange due to oxidation. The spring flowers were putting on a show what with lavender mats of phlox stuffed into the cracks in the rocks, and waist high azalea bushes sporting clusters of the distinctively ornamental bloom. Cedar Creek trickled through the moonscape, the sight of clear running water clashing with the general aridity of the area.

A flower, to show my love for thee

In another sign of hiking in the Kalmiopsis, there were two darlingtonia bogs growing right on trail. Also known as California pitcher plant or cobra lily, these unique specimens trap insects in their distinctive pitchers and digest them to supplement the nutrient-poor soils of the Kalmiopsis. And they have got to have the strangest flowers ever and they were in their full odd blooming season. It almost seemed sacrilegious to step on them as I crossed the darlingtonia bog on the overgrown trail.

Windy Valley
A short two mile descent dropped me down into Windy Valley where I set up camp.  The trees surrounding the valley were merely singed by the Biscuit and the valley was spared the scorched earth treatment shown the surrounding mountains. The valley floor is a long meadow with Windy Creek running alongside it and I can't think of a more peaceful and tranquil place.

Let's walk around the meadow some more!
Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot to do there after camp was set up so I walked around the meadow. Then I ate dinner and walked around the meadow. Then I walked around the meadow some more. I had some vain notion of taking pictures of the sunset but then some clouds rolled in and just like that, sunset was cancelled. So, I walked around the meadow again.

The next morning dawned wet, foggy, and pretty darn cold. Snow Camp Mountain was hidden and unseen up there in the foggy netherworld. I began to harbor grave doubts about the wisdom of hiking to the top of  a mountain where all views would be occluded by the mist. The deal was cinched when I explored the ford where the trail crossed Windy Creek, as the creek was close to thigh deep.

Are we having fun yet?

Striking camp, I climbed out of the valley in ever thickening fog. This turned out to be a long drive for a short hike, making this Memorial Day somewhat forgettable.  It still was beautiful, though.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Kerby Peak

Proof we were there
Several weekends ago, Ray and I opted to do Kerby Peak as an impromptu Plan B hike when Plan A was snowed over. Plan B did not pan out that day either because of a road closure but we were very impressed with the massive rock wall that is Kerby Peak. Our legs trembled with both fear and anticipation at hiking up to the Kerby summit, a paltry 2,600 feet above us. So, when the aforementioned road opened, we found ourselves craning our necks once again to peer at the summit all those thousands of feet above us.

Hiking is fun, right?
The trail wasted no time heading uphill and we stopped at every other switchback panting with the exertion. Thank goodness there were switchbacks, it could have easily been a lot worse as the old trail simply charged straight up the forested slope that was nearly a vertical wall. Periodically, a break in the forest would show us that Kerby Peak was so far above and so far away. Better to head back into the forest and focus on getting to the next switchback.

I'm NOT TIRED, I tell you!
At least spring was happening on the forest floor and I stopped to take pictures of all the flowers because I like to take pictures and I was NOT TIRED.  Suffice to say, lots of pictures were taken on the climb up.

Siskiyou lewisia
At the halfway point, the trail spit us out onto a rocky cliff totally devoid of trees. Little rock gardens consisting of pink mats of phlox, stonecrop (not yet blooming), and cliff maids (also known as Siskiyou lewisia) colored the rocks nicely.  

And we are only halfway up!
But really, this was all about the view. The Illinois Valley lay spread out below us with green pastured farmland straddling the Deer Creek valley. Rising beyond the small town of Selma were the orange-brown mountains of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, all stripped clean of trees by the 2002 Biscuit Fire. And, unfortunately, Kerby was still high above and far away. Sigh.

Time to break out the sunscreen
We had been switchbacking back and forth on the north face of Kerby and eventually the trail surmounted a ridge and put us on the sunnier south slope. The vegetation changed, there were more ponderosa pines and cedars and a whole lot more sunshine. And blessedly, the trail switched from steep to merely uphill.

Brewer's weeping spruce, taken by a weeping hiker
Brewer's weeping spruce made an appearance also, the branches drooping sadly like our heads. The trees then thinned out together and the trail began switchbacking through an open slope of low-growing manzanita, just the right height for scratching hiker's shins. I made the comment to Ray that this must be the final push but a couple of miles later we were still hiking upwards. Just like child labor, it was a long and painful push.

One of many false summits

Summit cairn

Rocky towers loomed above the trail, contrasting nicely with the blue sky and we were ever hopeful that one of these towers would be the actual summit. But Kerby was a cruel and capricious taskmaster and was merely throwing false summits at us. It was almost anticlimactic when I strolled onto a flat spot with a summit cairn on it.
Magnificent view from the top

Climber's ritual of adding to the summit cairn

A magnificent panorama awaited us at the top and we soaked in the views while waiting for the feeling to return to our quavering legs dangling over the edge as we lunched. We could see the towns of Selma, O'Brien, Murphy, and Cave Junction as they sprawled in the valley dotted with farms. The rugged Kalmiopsis Wilderness dominated the northern view and we could see the snow cone of Mt. McLaughlin, and the gray mounds of Grayback Mountain and Mount Elijah. To the southwest were the snowy peaks of Preston Peak, El Capitan, The Lieutenants, and Bear Mountain, all located in California's Siskiyou Wilderness.

Going down is also "fun"
All good things must end, and we headed downhill towards the trailhead.  Going down was harder than going up with all the leg braking, but it was quicker: it took three hours to reach the summit but only an hour and a half to get down. Ray summed it up best when he said "That was the hardest 7 miles I have ever hiked!" Short, succinct, and entirely accurate.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sacchi Beach

So my alarm rings early Saturday morning but instead of bounding up out of bed with unbridled enthusiasm, I dispiritedly slap at the alarm clock and go back to sleep. And when I woke up several hours later, I had missed a hike with the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club. D'oh! It's too bad, because they were hiking from the Seven Devils Wayside, north of Bandon, and I had never been hiking there. After a day of rest and chore-avoidance, I (and Maggie, our happy-to-be-out-hiking dog) drove out to Seven Devils Wayside and performed a solo reenactment of the hike.

Twomile Creek on Merchants Beach

Maggie sprints to Fivemile Point
It was a gorgeous spring day and Twomile Creek burbled merrily onto the beach. We too, burbled happily onto the beach and crossed Twomile Creek and headed south to Fivemile Point. Seven Devils, Twomile, Fivemile: lots of numbers in these parts! Maggie, with unbridled and simple canine enthusiasm, ran ahead and then ran back to make sure I was coming, she got the double mileage award as a result.

Fivemile Point

Fivemile Point is a fairly innocuous looking point that juts out into the sea. Rounding the point at any other time besides at low tide would be anything but innocuous, however. Fortunately, the tide was retreating and we had no issues. Well, Maggie did have an issue as she was getting used to wading through the ankle deep puddles in between all the rocks. Not paying attention, she blundered into a tidepool that was about 5 feet deep and she paddled frantically back to relatively dry land, much to my amusement.

Whiskey Run Beach stretched ahead of us when we rounded the point and there was a noticeable dearth of rocks. It was just miles and miles of sandy beach fading away into the misty yonder. We walked as far as Whiskey Run, a creek that flows through and from its namesake wayside and picnic area. Since it was another 7 miles or so further to Bandon and Bullards Beach and since there really weren't any major sights to see, we turned around and re-rounded Fivemile Point.

Whisky Run, full of!

Agate Beach rocks!

Heading north, we left the tidepools at Fivemile Point behind and continued north past the Seven Devils Wayside. Rounding a small point, we ambled onto Agate Beach. The beach is covered with rocks of every shape and color, most rounded to smoothness by centuries of wave-on-sand action.  I spent a lot of time prone on the ground, squinting through the camera viewfinder while Maggie plopped down on the sand, bored with the whole photography process. My grandchildren would have a field day on this beach, we'd never get them to leave! Plus, I'd have to carry the bucket of rocks back.

At the north end of Agate Beach was an unnamed point that also would be impassable at high tide, just like Fivemile Point. Rocks and tidepools abounded with starfish clinging to rocks covered with mussels and barnacles. Waiting for us as we rounded the point was the long and secluded cove of Sacchi Beach.

This hike was not pointless

Oceanic mayhem at the end of Sacchi Beach

Arago Peak, above Cape Arago, had been off in the distance when we began this hike but now it was kind of close in an indicator of just how far we had walked. There were some pretty fancy homes, castles really, perched on top of the massive cliffs above the sandy beach. These homes probably have a limited shelf life, judging by the amount of debris at the base of the inexorably crumbling cliffs. At any rate, we walked to the end of the beach which is bordered by a cliff at the north end and observed the waves crashing on the jagged rocks and pinnacles beyond the beach.

One small treasure
It seemed like the tide was beginning to rise so I put the camera away and walked really fast to the unnamed point, having no desire to get stranded at Sacchi Beach. They make horror movies about people who get stranded in remote areas. I need not have worried, for we had plenty of dry land at the point and the camera came out again.

Before we end this blog, a brief word about pelicans. We obviously were walking under a pelican flyway as squadrons of them flew silently and mysteriously above us. This was like an interstate freeway for the odd--looking birds as formation after formation flew north.  Needless to say, my picture collection now has lots of pelicans in it.

Strafe the hiker!